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Jan 29, 2008

A cup tie too far

In the end, it was just too much to hope or ask for. The first win over Arsenal since 1999 could not be followed up by a victory over Manchester United, who Spurs have not beaten at Old Trafford since 1989. The 5-1 demolition of 'that other team' from North London would have filled the team with confidence for this 4th Round FA Cup tie, but United ran out 3-1 winners despite, by their high standards, putting in a so-so performance.

One reason they didn't need to be at their best was the nonappearance once again of Ledley King, as he is gradually - and sensibly - being reintroduced into the back four. In his absence, Spurs fielded Dawson and the latest stand-in centre-back, Tom Huddlestone: Younes Kaboul, warming the bench, would presumably have viewed that pairing with some sense of uneasiness. In the event, Huddlestone acquitted himself very well, as did O'Hara at full back and Tainio as the holding midfielder, a role he filled so effectively against Arsenal in midweek.

Dawson, however, was terrible. As well as being at fault for Tevez's equalizer, Dawson gave away the penalty from which United took the lead, with his handball also resulting in his own sending off. The argument that he plays better in tandem with King is starting to look more like an excuse for some very basic deficiencies in terms of decision-making and positional sense. Hopefully he will take Kaboul's place on the bench (with Kaboul, in turn, taking a plane back to from whence he came) once the signing of Jonathan Woodgate from Middlesbrough is completed.

Woodgate looks like a fantastic buy at £7 million (or thereabouts) IF he can stay fit. He is exactly the kind of player Spurs have been lacking: a commanding and footballing centre-half who doesn't need Ledley to hold his hand. The prospect of a Woodgate/King partnership in the middle of the Spurs defence is a mouthwatering one.

Apparently the transfer of Hertha Berlin's Gilberto - or to give him his full title, Gilberto da Silva Melo - is in the final stages. With Gareth Bale out injured, the Brazilian would be a useful acquisition, especially since he can play either at left back or on the left side of midfield.

In the midst of the actual and rumoured coming and goings, a final note on a player who confirmed in a TV interview that he is not asking for a transfer. In an era when players are all too quick to 'throw the toys out of the pram' when things don't go their way, the sidelined Paul Robinson has shown dignity, modesty and professionalism, a fact that has not gone unremarked by Juande Ramos - and hopefully will also be noted by Fabio Capello.

As Cerny demonstrated for United's third and decisive goal, goalkeepers make mistakes but that does not make them bad goalkeepers overnight. Robinson deserves his chance back in the side, since without it he will almost certainly be left out of the England squad for the upcoming friendly against Switzerland. With Everton in midweek and Manchester United again on Saturday, whoever is in goal is at least assured of a chance to show what he can do.


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